By V.L. Hendrickson
After treating tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients, health-care workers in New York City have gained a wealth of knowledge of and experience with the virus.
That’s one of the main reasons survival rates are so much higher than they were when the first cases were reported in New York, experts said.
“Your chance of dying is significantly lower now than it was in March,” said Dr. Daniel Griffin, a practicing physician and an associate research scientist in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University. “We have gotten so much better at managing COVID-19 patients.”
The virus has caused 55,797 hospitalizations in New York City alone, according to city data. There have been 219,128 reported cases of the virus as of Wednesday, with 18,803 confirmed deaths and 4,625 probable deaths, according to city data.
At its peak in early April, there were 6,377 cases of the virus reported in one day. That same day, April 6, there were 1,723 hospitalizations and 574 deaths. Three months later, on July 6, there were 118 positive cases reported, 15 hospitalizations and four fatalities.
To combat the virus, researchers have been pushing innovations in testing, drugs and blood plasma and other treatments. Many hospitals have also reorganized their physical spaces to create more room for both patients and physical distancing within facilities.
Another big reason for the higher survival rate recently: the patients are younger.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that the city has seen an uptick in positive cases of the virus in 20- to 29-year-olds, with the rate of positive cases rising from 26.6 for every 100,000 people the first week of June, to 34.6 the week ending June 27. There’s also been a slight increase in cases in those in their 30s.
“So I think we can take some of the credit in saying that we’ve got much better at reducing the risk, but we’re also seeing a younger, healthier population that one would anticipate having better outcomes,” he said.
Evolving patient protocol
Having now treated so many COVID-19 patients, health-care workers have a better sense of what to expect. In fact, there’s a four-week calendar of symptoms that is associated with many typical cases.
The first week symptoms are typical of the flu, with the more serious issues—such as trouble breathing, clotting or bacterial infections—arriving in the second and third weeks, Griffin explained. That means people in the early phase can be more closely monitored from home, instead of coming to the hospital.
Knowing how the virus is likely to behave has also been key to doctors prescribing the right medications.
For example, blood thinners to help prevent clotting were added to the protocol at Mount Sinai hospitals, according to Dr. David Reich, president of the Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai Queens.
“The vast majority of COVID patients received blood thinners, which further benefited the rate of survival,” he said.
Other drugs that have been breakthroughs in treatment include steroids, such as Dexamethasone, and the antiviral drug remdesivir, for which the FDA issued an emergency use authorization in May.
The manufacturer of remdesivir donated hundreds of doses of the drug to the federal government in May, which were then allocated to state governments.
“We are currently well supplied and appreciate the donation by Gilead,” /zigman2/quotes/210293917/composite GILD -0.49% Reich said. “It is my understanding that other hospitals in New York City are also well supplied and are likely going to be able to purchase the drug shortly, when more need arises.”
Accessing remdesivir was a challenge before the federal government was in charge of allocating it, according to Dr. Robert J. Cerfolio, the chief of hospital operations at NYU Langone Health. In May, it started giving state health departments the drug so it could be sent to hospitals.